There is nothing that so distinguishes Catholics from many Protestants as the Eucharist, and this also distinguishes Catholics from other Protestants who hold the Eucharist in great esteem but understand it differently. What do we believe?
Sadly, this last question might be the wrong one to ask—perhaps I should have asked, instead: “What does the Catholic Church teach?” Many of us really don’t grasp the depth of our Church’s teaching and accept it. But this teaching is consistent with the most ancient and ongoing beliefs we have.
We’re more or less familiar with the “Bread of Life” discourse in John 6; we might even be aware of St Paul’s instructions about the Eucharist in I Corinthians 11. But it doesn’t end there. Without quoting all the documents, let me just say that St Justin Martyr in the 2nd century, Ss Hippolytus, Augustine, Ambrose, Cyril of Jerusalem, and John Chrysostom in the 3rd/4th centuries, among many others, have all affirmed what the Catholic Church today teaches: the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, given to us for our salvation and given to us by Christ out of love.
George Orwell in his classic Animal Farm reminded us of the importance of word choice. It’s how people who want to influence opinion will use special language, either intended to sanitize or inflame. And so, too, with the Sacrament: I do not want the words “bread” and “wine” used because it leads to a misunderstanding of the Real Presence. In another context they might be acceptable, but in ordinary parish parlance they are deceptive and can lead to sacramental minimalism. We do not simply eat/drink while remembering Jesus; we take in His Body/Blood.
Is the Eucharist too “degrading” or “humiliating” to be regarded as the Lord’s Body/Blood? Can the Master of the Universe be contained in a wafer? We might think this is the case, until we realize that the Incarnation itself is surely, from the Divine point of view, “degrading” and “humiliating.” But that’s the exact point of the great canticle of Philippians 2! Read it, please…
This past Friday a week ago I offered the Eucharist for folks from the porch. I expected perhaps 35-40. We had over 100! Why? What were they/you hungering for? As I write this, we’re still in the throes of Cristobal; I wonder what the turnout for Holy Communion this Friday will be. We know what we need…
An aspect of Eucharistic devotion completely foreign to other Protestant and Orthodox churches is Adoration. Some don’t believe in it because of their theology of the Sacrament; others simply have no tradition. Why do we do it? This is a long story, but let me cut to the chase for us in the here and now: Adoration simply means the opportunity to say to our Lord, “Jesus, I love you.” I want to say this often, and I never want to be in a position where I refuse to say it. He is my Love. I know He is yours, too.